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Biographical criticism is the Critical Practice of analyzing a work of literature in light of an author's biography in order to elucidate a more accurate, and detailed understanding of its meaning. Like any critical practice it can be used with discretion and insight or employed as a superficial shortcut to understanding the literary work on its own terms through such strategies as Formalism. Hence 19th century biographical criticism came under disapproval by the so-called New Critics of the 1920s, who coined the term "biographical fallacy" to describe criticism that neglected the imaginative genesis of literature as well as formal analysis based on concepts such as genre theory.

Notwithstanding this critique, biographical criticism remained a significant mode of literary inquiry throughout the 20th century, particularly in studies of Charles Dickens[1] and F. Scott Fiztgerald,[2] among others. In the opening decades of the 21st century it appears to be undergoing a significant renaissance in Walt Whitman studies[3]

Connections to Other Modes of Criticism

Biographical criticism shares in common with New Historicism an interest in the fact that all literary works are situated in specific historical and biographical contexts from which they are generated. Biographical Criticism, like New Historicism, rejects the concept that literary studies should be limited to the internal or formal characteristics of a literary work, and insists that it properly includes a knowledge of the contexts in which the work was created. Biographical criticism stands in ambiguous relationship to Romanticism. It has often been argued that it is a development from Romanticism, but it also stands in opposition to the Romantic tendency to view literature as manifesting a "universal" transcendence of the particular conditions of its genesis.


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  3. ^ Randall Knoper, "Walt Whitman and the New Biographical Criticism."


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